TORONTO – Some young men might be disappointed if their NHL team opted to send them back to junior hockey, even if it meant they were able to play at the World Junior Championship.
Anthony Duclair is not one of them.
The 19-year-old left wing for the New York Rangers, a Montreal native, jumped at the opportunity to join Canada for the 2015 WJC, which will be divided between his hometown and Toronto.
"I'm very happy and very excited to be here," Duclair said Friday at Canada's training camp. "(Rangers coach) Alain Vigneault asked me a couple of days after the roster came out what my thoughts were and I told him I wanted to be part of this tournament. With the tournament being in Canada and in my hometown, I really wanted to be a part of this and I'm happy I'm here."
Duclair is eligible to return to the Rangers after the WJC. However, the Rangers could also send him back to his junior team, the Quebec Remparts, who will host the 2015 Memorial Cup.
Just because Duclair wanted to play for Canada didn't mean the Rangers would automatically let him. He has a goal and seven points in 18 games with the Rangers and averages 12:09 ice time per game. After leading the Rangers with five points in five preseason games, general manager Glen Sather traded Steve Kampfer and Andrew Yogan to the Florida Panthers for Joey Crabb in a deal that opened a roster spot for Duclair to begin the season with the Rangers.
"It wasn't my decision," Duclair said of joining Canada's junior team. "I expressed my feelings and they took their time making up their mind. For myself being a young guy who is in and out of the lineup, I think it was a good decision to let me go."
Duclair played the past three seasons with the Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, for whom he scored 101 goals and had 215 points in 177 games. He was taken by New York in the third round (No. 80) in the 2013 NHL Draft. Duclair led the Remparts in scoring last season with 50 goals and 99 points in 59 games.
Playing in an international tournament is nothing new for Duclair; in 2012 he helped Canada win the gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Under-18 Tournament in the Czech Republic. Now that he has NHL experience, he fully expects to be counted on to supply offense and leadership to Canada's National Junior Team. The fact he is from Montreal means he will be in the spotlight during the preliminary portion of the tournament; Canada, the United States, Slovakia, Finland and Germany will play their round-robin games at Bell Centre.
"The pressure is there obviously, being from Montreal," Duclair said. "Really, though, it doesn't matter where you come from or who you are, this tournament is very hard to win and we're all going to be pulling together. It doesn't matter if you are coming from the NHL or junior, you're part of Hockey Canada now."
Duclair will be trying to help Canada win its first gold medal at the since 2009. In the past five years Canada finished second twice, third twice and fourth in 2014. In those years, Canada has had eligible players skip the tournament because they were with NHL teams who did not want to release them. Even this year eligible players such as defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers and forwards Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning are not being released by their NHL teams. Also, forward Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames has a shoulder injury that has sidelined him all season.
Duclair, who skated on a line with Sam Reinhart and Max Domi at practice Friday, said he and his teammates cannot worry about Canada's failures in the past few years.
"It's ancient history," Duclair said. "I think we're a new group; a new team. Everything is new every year. We want to start from scratch and build some chemistry starting in this camp. We'll see where we go after that."
Canada coach Benoit Groulx said Duclair has matured a lot since he first joined the Remparts and has a better understanding of how to play a complete game. Groulx said the talent has always been there, but now it is complemented by consistency.
"Last year after Christmas, if he was not the best player in our league, he was close," Groulx said.
Duclair is uncertain what his future holds after the tournament, whether he'll rejoin the Rangers or be returned to Quebec. For now, his eyes are on the task at hand.
"Right now I am focusing on Hockey Canada and what it takes to win a gold medal," Duclair said.